During our Sunday, September 23rd dialog, Shyam Dodge shared the moving, painful personal story of his family’s harrowing ordeal after his father’s sudden, unexpected death. His dad had been the longtime guru of an ashram in the tradition of Advaita Vedanta, and Shyam was widely regarded as his likely successor. But the buried life-denying shadows of some approaches to Vedanta sabotaged the plan, while deepening Shyam’s consciousness and humanity.
What unfolded led to the story he recounts in his book, “Wet, Hot and Wild- American Yogi”. As we talked, it felt as if the 30 year-old Shyam and I were building an intergenerational bridge, while at the same time looking at the well-explored topics of transcendence, humanity, gurus, and the links between them all, in a fresh and intimate way.
I felt particularly connected to Shyam’s story since his father and I were very close to the same age. Like me, his dad joined an ashram influenced by Ramana Maharshi when he was very close to 20 years of age. Shyam’s father’s, however, expressed itself in a pretty traditional way, emphasizing the split between spirituality and life. When he died early and unexpectedly, Shyam was left with the responsibility of looking out for his younger siblings and mother, as well of navigating his role as heir apparent to the spiritual community his father founded. His father’s tragic passing however, triggered a series of events that led to an awakening for Shyam that ultimately led him to reject the very concept of radically transcending his humanity.
During our dialog, Shyam described the painful process of shedding the teachers, philosophy, practice, community and life with which he’d identified, sharing his personal story with courageous candor. He detailed the extreme and reductive atmosphere that surrounded his upbringing, as well as the adoring attitude that followers had toward him as a precocious little guru who’d absorbed his father’s esoteric teachings. He also described being ostracized after his apostasy and even receiving death threats.
Though most of us are familiar with the kind of pathologies inherent in classic guru communities, there is raw tenderness in the way Shyam tells his story and a fresh aliveness to his awakening to his “humanity.” Today, Shyam is growing in an embodied spirituality where individuality, the personal, and human relationships are compassionately embraced, rather than suppressed and devalued, and where spirituality is about becoming more human, not less. I invite you to listen to Shyam’s journey here.